© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2024

Hororata Glow Festival delivers a successful evening of balloons and joy

Layla Bailey-McDowell
Declan O'Connell
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Buster the Bulldog lights up alongside other hot air balloons at the beginning of the performance.  Sam Clark

The Hororata Glow festival was a massive hit, selling out a week before the big day and attracting around 11 thousand people.

Taking place on the Northern-edge of the Canterbury Plains, hot air balloons from all over the country glowed and performed in unison to an amazing soundtrack.

The bi-annual festival was organised entirely by the Hororata community trust, with a massive support from Ballooning Canterbury. It was a volunteer-run event with a team of 130 people who had been working behind the scenes for two whole years to bring this incredible event to light.

According to Cindy Driscoll, the trusts Executive Director the volunteers, sponsors, and funders played a pivotal role in keeping ticket prices low and allowing free entry for children under 16. This was of huge importance to both her and the community, and is something they aspire to continue with this event in the future.

But it wasn't just about the festival itself. The entire Hororata community came together to host the balloonists and their families who traveled from afar. They went all out, providing breakfast and dinner for about 50 people every day which Driscoll said was huge.

This year, the festival was fortunate to host a special guest called Buster the Bulldog, an international balloon all the way from the UK that was most definitely a fan favourite. Driscoll said there was a huge amount of interest from the kids and adults alike, and they were excited to have him glow among the crew this year. 

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Buster the Bulldog floating in the air Sam Clark & Layla McDowell

Of course, the highlight of the night for most was seeing the hot air balloons light up the sky. But getting there early to meet the pilots was another incredible experience the festival had to offer

Darryn Redshaw was one of the attending pilots from Waikato who has been flying for about 5 years. Coming from a family of balloonists and surrounded by them most most of his life, he took pride on keeping the tradition alive. He had two amazing balloons on display, one of them being the "crowd hopper," the only one of its kind flying in the whole country. The crowd hopper is a 31 thousand foot cubic balloon which Redshaw explained "you can fit 31,000 basketballs inside it” and flying it is “like flying a race car in the air”. In comparison with classic hot air balloons, the crowd hopper holds only one person with a singular seat which allows him to zip around a lot easier and faster.

Another North-Island pilot was John Snodgrass, who also travelled to south for this occasion. He's been flying for over 20 years and brought his bright 77,000 cubic feet balloon called "Wildfire" or sometimes called "Kitchen" along to this years festival. It turns out Snodgrass used the money he saved for a kitchen to buy the balloon, which he claimed was “much to his partner's disgust at the time”. However, they both had a blast during their stay at Hororata and put on an extraordinary show.

A perk of the balloon interactive area was that you could ask the pilots any question you would like. So when I asked them what they loved about flying, they shared a similar answer: the freedom and joy it brings, not just to them but to everyone who sees them up there.

Snodgrass said he loved the “peacefulness and freedom” and leaving all his worries behind as he took to the skies. And though flying involves a bit of noise from the burner and sometimes cold feet, it's still a serene experience.

Redshaw shared similar thoughts, which he stated flying was a rewarding experience and  “to see the smiles on peoples faces when we do this kind of stuff and the views are second to none. It's so slow, so peaceful, nothing like flying in an aeroplane at all.

And finally as the clock struck 6 pm, the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived. The 11,000 people in attendance watched in excitement as the balloons glowed and performed to a mix of popular tunes. From "Who Let the Dogs Out" to the Lion King's "Circle of Life’, the balloonists put on an absolutely mind-blowing show. Although Buster took a small nap towards the end, due to the wind picking up, the crowds of people's expectations were whole heartedly met. 

The next festival will take place in 2025, and is set to be another breathtaking night, so make sure to get in early before they sell out again.

Edited by Declan O'Connell and filmed by Sam Clark